New and Improved Therapy Helps Breast Cancer Patients Obtain Treatment and Get on With Life

When MeritCare pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) nurse Kris Webb, 49, learned that she had early stage breast cancer, one of her first concerns was - Would her treatment regime disrupt her work schedule? How would it impact both her patients and her coworkers?

When MeritCare pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) nurse Kris Webb, 49, learned that she had early stage breast cancer, one of her first concerns was - Would her treatment regime disrupt her work schedule? How would it impact both her patients and her coworkers?

Kris learned about a treatment option that she and many of her fellow nurse friends didn't know existed - something called brachytherapy. Because Kris' cancer was detected early, she had treatment options - she could have a mastectomy (surgical removal of the entire breast) or a lumpectomy (less-invasive surgery to remove the cancerous area), followed by radiation treatment. She chose the latter, and was very happy to learn that she had the option of receiving radiation via brachytherapy or the traditional route (several sessions of radiation over six-seven weeks). She chose brachytherapy.

Brachy is the Greek word for "short" distance. Various forms of brachytherapy have been around for years, but a new and improved version is now available at MeritCare Roger Maris Cancer Center called high dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy. With HDR brachytherapy, small tubes are placed inside the breast where the cancer was surgically removed. The tubes hold tiny radioactive sources that emit radiation to the previous location of the tumor, while reducing the radiation exposure to the surrounding healthy tissue. One advantage of HDR brachytherapy is a higher dose can be delivered over a much shorter time. Kris' treatments were 15 minutes long, three times a day, for only five days versus several weeks of treatment. The side effects of HDR brachytherapy are typically less than with the traditional radiation treatment.

For Kris, brachytherapy was the best choice. She received state-of-the art treatment, and was able to quickly getting back to working her 12-hour shifts, caring for kids in the PICU. With the holidays approaching, what's on Kris' mind is, "This was yet another chapter of my life. I feel very fortunate that this treatment was available so that I could get back to my regular life. I didn't have to deal with the interruption of daily treatments over many weeks."